Climate fears over India's middle class-driven car boom

New car buyers like Puneet Masih are not hard to find in India, where the country's fast-expanding vehicle fleet reflects the increasing appetite for private transport among the emerging middle classes.

Across Asia, millions of people each year are progressing from pushbikes to motorbikes and onto cars, as the region develops economically. But there are fears that the transition will have an environmental cost.

Masih is part of a trend that could see an explosion in carbon emissions from developing countries, as consumers look to emulate the lifestyle of their affluent counterparts in the West.

The education worker, 22, is undeterred by Mumbai's congested roads, which can turn even the shortest journey into a lengthy, frustrating crawl, and believes he is doing his bit by looking at fuel-efficient models.

"It's got a lot of cabin space, which gives you a lot of leg room space and the fuel efficiency is quite good. That's the main reason I'm here," he said while eyeing up a Mahindra Renault Logan outside a showroom in south Mumbai.

As for the problems of pollution, congestion and global warming, blamed by scientists on the sort of carbon emissions produced by vehicles the world over, he is counting on the government to find solutions.

"I'm hoping they can do it, otherwise '2012' is not far away," he told AFP, referring to the Hollywood blockbuster film about natural disasters caused by a catastrophic rise in the Earth's temperature.

India's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are expected to nearly triple in the next two decades from about 1.2 tonnes per person per year to 2.1 tonnes in 2020 and 3.5 tonnes in 2030, according to a recent government-backed report.

That is still below the global average of 4.2 tonnes per person.

But India's massive 1.1-billion population puts the country among the world's leading greenhouse gas emitters - and under pressure at next week's climate change summit in Copenhagen to commit to emissions cuts.

Top emitters China and the United States have already put figures on the table that quantify their commitments to mitigate their carbon footprints, putting the spotlight on India which is expected to make a similar gesture.

India and China have both rejected the idea of binding targets, however, which developed countries are demanding.

With transport emissions identified as a key driver of global warming, the rising number of cars on India's roads points to the country's potential as an even bigger emitter in the future.

India is one of the world's fastest-growing car markets and a target for all major foreign manufacturers which are keen to boost their sales, stagnating in developed markets.

Just over 1.5 million new cars were sold in 2008-9 and some analysts predict the market will triple in size by 2015.

Manufacturers are keen to stress their vehicles' environmental credentials. The biggest-selling models here are small cars, which are a far cry from the gas guzzlers popular in the United States, for example.

"I think in terms of technology of emissions control, Indian cars are pretty strict and do meet international norms quite well," said Darius Lam, associate editor of Autocar Professional magazine.

Anumita Roy Chowdury, associate director for research and advocacy at the independent Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi, said India should not be judged by Western norms.

Overall car penetration is about seven per 1,000 people, compared with 600-800/1,000 in the West and more than half of people in cities use public transport.

"Even though we are beginning to see these rapid increases (in car ownership), these are the early stages of motorisation in India," she told AFP.

"Yes, it's increasing, but it's still not comparable with the kind of motorisation that we have already seen in the West."

In addition to the traffic-clogged streets, the increase in car ownership can already be seen in air pollution levels.

India's pollution watchdog has warned that the "exponential" increase in vehicles risks cancelling out air quality improvement measures such as the use of "cleaner" fuels and the phasing out of older vehicles.

The Central Pollution Control Board has said most of India's big cities are in "frequent violation" of air quality standards, with airborne particulate matter from noxious gases exceeding World Health Organization guidelines.

The WHO estimates that nearly 120,000 Indians die each year from polluted outdoor air, out of two million worldwide.

Dr Pramod Niphadkar, honorary secretary of the Asthma and Bronchitis Association of India, has seen a rise in pulmonary infections and conditions such as asthma and pneumonia in the past 30 years.

"Car pollution is the main and the sole factor which is responsible for the increase in the respiratory complaints of the patients," he said at his busy Mumbai clinic.

But for Chowdury, who heads the CSE's air pollution team, India is better placed than Western countries to tackle emissions, provided fuel efficiency and emissions standards are enforced and public transport boosted.

"It's a huge opportunity," she said. "If we're careful today and don't repeat the mistakes of the West, then we have a much better chance of our future trajectory being significantly different from the West."

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'